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Journal of the History of Sexuality 12.4 (2003) 605-636

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Bahnhof Boys:

Policing Male Prostitution in Post-Nazi Berlin

Carleton University

Although Germany's unconditional surrender swept away much of the political rubble of the Third Reich, the shattered physical and social geography of Berlin hampered official efforts to rebuild the former capital. In 1945 Berlin was divided into four sectors, each one occupied and administered by a different allied power—France, Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union. Though an integrated municipal council was established, parochial interests surfaced through the rhetoric of unity. While crossing from one sector to another might be relatively painless, complications could arise in securing ration cards, fuel, work, and shelter. For many Berliners, however, clearing the streets of pulverized debris was simple compared to the monumental task of restoring traditional mores. The public licentiousness that lingered on for months and even years after 1945 was a constant reminder to them of the debasement brought about by war and amplified by defeat.1

At this juncture of defeat, occupation, reconstruction, and renewal that witnessed the creation of not one but two postwar German states, the experiences of men such as Otto N., a forty-nine-year-old cashier, are illuminating.2 The tale of his escapades in Berlin unfolds in the 1951 file of a [End Page 605] Department of Youth Services caseworker. One night Otto picked up a young man at the pissoir near the Friedrichstrasse train station (Bahnhof), east of the city center. Carefully negotiating terms, he made the necessary arrangements for sex, taking a moment to guarantee the boy's age of majority. Settling on a price of five East German marks, they struck a deal quickly and, we are told, fulfilled its terms. Later that same night, when their paths crossed again at a local movie house, the pair took advantage of the chance encounter to arrange another rendezvous. Leaving the eastern sector, they drove to the West Berlin district of Neukölln in search of an underground bar. Along the way they befriended another man, and all three made plans to reunite later that morning after Otto's wife left for work. Although he managed to avoid his spouse's suspicions initially, in time Otto fell into the dragnet of the West Berlin police force and had his case heard in front of the Tiergarten Amtsgericht (district court).3

With prior convictions during both the Nazi and postwar years, Otto found himself in the shadow of both the fallen Reich and the new republic.4 In a gambit to secure a lighter sentence, he implored the court to understand he was under the impression that in the eastern sector, where the pickup occurred, mutual masturbation was no longer a crime. While true, what Otto did not realize at the time was that the rules of evidence were different in the West, where the pair was eventually arrested, and that the boy he cruised, although eighteen, was still legally a minor. For Otto, what began as an innocent pickup at the Friedrichstrasse train station resulted in a six-month prison sentence.

An aura of order surrounds this faded file, whose yellowed statements, collated and cataloged, are preserved in Berlin's city archive. But Otto's case was one of many that confounded the police, courts, and social service workers entrusted with interpreting and enforcing Paragraph 175 of the German penal code during the years after Hitler's demise. Indeed, this case bears many of the hallmarks of confusion that marked the policing of same-sex sexuality in postwar Berlin, when men and youths frequently [End Page 606] crossed over the internal sector boundaries for evening liaisons, tempting fate and risking possible incarceration under the slow-to-be-reformed, Nazi-era antisodomy legislation. Whether negotiated obliquely through knowing glances at the Bahnhof waiting room or over a few drinks and a bite to eat (eine Stulle) in one of the city's bars and cafes, intergenerational paid sex was a key feature of...


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pp. 605-636
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